Bill Lee

U.S. Capitol incursion, bust removal among top stories of first half of 2021

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the 10 most-viewed posts on the TNJ: On the Hill blog through the first half of 2021.

10. New PAC takes aim at Gov. Bill Lee’s re-election bid. April 29, 2021.

9. Knoxville ballpark, Tebow charity among entities getting grants in Lee budget. April 14, 2021.

8. Hagerty names Jim Henry as state director. Jan. 13, 2021.

7. Feds rescind effort to lock in Medicaid changes made by Trump administration. Feb. 23, 2021.

6. FBI visit to Tennessee Capitol sparks jitters. March 10, 2021.

Federal agents meet with legislative staffers outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

5. Here are the projected amounts headed to TN cities and counties under the COVID relief program. March 30, 2021.

4. Speaker Sexton strips Griffey of committee assignments. March 25, 2021.

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

3. GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal. March 15, 2021.

2. Tennessee congressional delegation recoils at Capitol incursion. Jan. 6, 2021.

1. Former commissioner reports Rep. Weaver to DC police. Jan. 14, 2021.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In search of Phoenix Solutions

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Journal has ventured deep into New Mexico in search of the elusive political mail vendor believed to be at the center of a federal investigation into three sitting state lawmakers.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions is a mailbox store in a strip mall in Santa Fe, located next to a shuttered vape shop. Other businesses in the complex include a Harbor Freight tool store, a Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant, and a drive-thru coffee shop called Agapao. Felipe’s Tacos is located across the street. There was no sign of the vendor’s purported proprietor, Matthew Phoenix, whom nobody has been able to reach since last year.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The FBI in January raided the offices of Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, along with the home of Cade Cothren, the former chief of staff to Casada when he was House speaker. Investigators have been mum about the reasons for the raid, but speculation has centered on the sudden prominence of Phoenix Solutions starting in early 2020.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Holt Whitt, the interim chief of staff for Casada and current speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has obtained a letter from federal prosecutors that he is considered a witness in the case. Suspended after he was questioned in the January raids, Whitt has now been hired as Human Resources adviser in Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration.

Is Matthew Phoenix out here somewhere? Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Poll finds GOP voters happy with GOP in Tenn.

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A new poll finds Republican primary voters are largely pleased with GOP politicians and policies in Tennessee.

The survey was conducted by ARW Strategies, which is run by Andrew Weissert, who previously ran We Ask America, a pollster that received a B-minus rating from FiveThirtyEight.com.

Here’s the release:

Tennessee Statewide Survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters

ARW Strategies, a national polling firm, today released a statewide public opinion poll of likely Republican primary voters in Tennessee. The poll took the pulse on Republican voters’ opinions about party leaders, Governor Lee’s job performance, and recent legislation signed into law by the governor.

While the Republican Party in Tennessee remains dominated by former President Donald Trump, Republicans are also nearly as enthusiastic about their governor, Bill Lee. From his handling of the pandemic to recent legislation signed into law, Lee’s support among his base looks impenetrable heading into his re-election next year.

ARW Strategies was founded by Andrew Weissert, former Chief Pollster for We Ask America. His work has been featured and covered by national publications like The New Yorker, Forbes, Politico, The Hill, National Review, Newsweek, and numerous local news organizations. This poll was not commissioned or paid for by any candidate or committee. ARW Strategies conducted this poll from its own resources to discover the current state of opinion among GOP Primary Voters in Tennessee

Key Takeaways
Donald Trump remains the face of the Republican Party. A massive 90% of likely Republican primary voters have a favorable opinion of the former president, with nearly three-quarters (72%) having a very favorable opinion of him. Just 10% say they view Trump unfavorably. Additionally, of those surveyed, 75% consider themselves to be Trump/America First Republicans, while just a quarter consider themselves to be some other form of Republican – traditional, social conservative, Tea Party, Libertarian.

Republican voters overwhelmingly like Governor Bill Lee and approve of the job he’s doing. 85% of Republican primary voters have a favorable opinion of Lee, while 86% approve of the job he’s done as governor. Just 14% disapprove of his job performance and only 11% view him unfavorably. 88% of self-identifying Trump/America First Republicans approve of Lee’s job performance, with just 9% disapproving.

Governor Lee’s strong image and job performance can be directly traced to his record and recent legislation. Republicans are highly supportive of Governor Lee’s recent actions, with 83% approving of his handling of the pandemic. 86% are more likely to vote for his re-election for the recent transgender athlete bill he signed into law. 82% are more likely to vote for his re-election for the law he signed allowing Tennesseans to carry firearms without a permit, and 81% support his school choice scholarship program.

Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty also enjoy exceptional images with Republican voters. For Senator Blackburn, 79% of Republicans view her favorably, while 17% have an unfavorable opinion of her. 78% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Senator Hagerty, with just 12% having an unfavorable one. Among those who call themselves Trump/America First Republicans, Senators Blackburn and Hagerty are even more popular where their images are 84% Fav/12% Unfav and 82% Fav/9% Unfav respectively.

Republicans want heavy emphasis on crime, illegal immigration and election integrity. The number one issue that Republican primary voters want the party to focus on heading into 2022, at 28%, is stopping crime and supporting law enforcement. In second, chosen by 23% of voters, is fighting illegal immigration and opposing sanctuary cities. In third, with 19%, is ensuring election integrity and preventing voter fraud.

Methodology
This poll was conducted between June 26th and 27th, 2021. In all, 600 interviews were achieved among likely 2022 Republican Primary voters in Tennessee. 324 of these responses came from cell phones. The Margin of Error for this survey is +/- 4% at a Confidence Interval of 95%.

Get your 225th Tennessee birthday posters here

Gov. Bill Lee has unveiled new posters commemorating Tenenssee’s 225 years of statehood.

They are available by request from the state at https://www.tennessee225.com/posters

See details below.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee unveiled three limited-edition posters highlighting each Tennessee grand division to celebrate 225 years of statehood. Tennesseans are invited to share an untold story and request a poster at www.Tennessee225.com.

“From the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains, our grand divisions reflect their own unique character and represent the best of Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I invite Tennesseans to submit untold stories that celebrate every corner of our state as we commemorate 225 years of statehood.”

The limited-edition posters, designed by famed artist Justin Helton of Knoxville, highlight the culture and beauty of each Tennessee grand division.

Lee joins Iowa counterpart in calling for congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is joining Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in calling on a congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors being flown to their states by the federal government.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds joined with U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in calling for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the crisis at the southern border and the ensuing flow of unaccompanied minors to states.

“We are writing to support your continued calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing regarding the current border crisis,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “We believe this hearing should also address the Biden Administration’s failure to provide notice and transparency in their movement of unaccompanied migrant children into states.”

Both Iowa and Tennessee have faced a series of disturbing incidents involving the transport of unaccompanied children into respective states, under the cover of darkness, with no advance notification, consent or plan from federal partners.

“These experiences sow seeds of mistrust in our communities, and work to intentionally subvert the will of the people for a secure border and a clear, lawful immigration process,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “Additionally, the lack of transparency places an undue burden on our law enforcement partners to determine whether these types of flights constitute a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.”

Both Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Bill Hagerty support calls for a hearing.

“The Biden Administration is secretly transporting migrants to communities throughout the United States, including in Tennessee, without the knowledge of or permission of the communities involved,” said Senator Blackburn. “President Biden’s failed immigration policies have turned every town into a border town. The Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately hold an oversight hearing on the crisis at our southern border. I applaud Governor Lee for his efforts to protect our state and the people who are being trafficked by the Mexican cartels.”

“Tennessee and states all across the country are seeing the real, tangible results of President Biden’s total failure to solve the crisis at the border—a crisis of his own making—with the systematic resettling of migrants in our communities,” said Senator Hagerty. “Mayors, sheriffs and governors are on the front lines of combatting increased human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as addressing strains on public resources. I applaud Governors Lee and Reynolds for continuing to draw attention to these matters, asking questions and urging Congress to perform its proper oversight function.”

Democratic donor running ads hitting Hensley over prescription case involving paramour

A copy of newspaper ads Bill Freeman is running in the district of Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

Prominent Democratic donor Bill Freeman of Nashville is running ads in Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley’s district criticizing the Hohenwald physician over conflicting testimony about how long he was romantically involved with a second cousin to whom he had prescribed opioids.

The state Board of Medical Examiners last year placed Hensley’s license on a three-year probation. Hensley had argued in a hearing that writing prescriptions for relatives was unavoidable in a small town like Hohenwald, suggesting it would have been “discrimination” for him to refuse them treatment.

The senator later acknowledged other medical care is available, as a doctor and nurse practitioner routinely visit the town. The Tennessean reported medical board member Neal Beckford noted Columbia is only 30 miles away, meaning other medical options may be “inconvenient
but not insurmountable.”

The Tennessean recently followed up with a story about how Hensley’s involvement with his second-cousin may have lasted longer than the brief spell he testified about during the hearing.

Read the full release from Freeman below:

Continue reading

Lee approves modernization of captive insurance laws

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from the state Department of Commerce and Insurance:

NASHVILLE – Newly approved updates to Tennessee’s captive insurance statute will help fuel the Volunteer State’s growing reputation as a first-choice domicile for companies looking to establish a captive insurance company.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee recently approved the latest modernizations to Tennessee’s captive laws, including authorizing parametric insurance coverage and reducing the statutory capital needed by protected cell captive insurers to commence operations from $250,000 to $100,000, amongst other improvements.

A captive insurance company (called a “captive”) represents an option for many corporations and groups wanting to take financial control and manage their business risks by forming their own insurance company. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) is responsible for properly regulating Tennessee’s captive insurance industry.

“By reducing the minimum capital and surplus needed to start protected cell captive insurance companies, Tennessee is sending a strong message that we value companies’ freedom to invest their money to obtain the highest return on investment possible rather than allocate money in excess of what is needed to support the potential risk of insurance losses in their captive,” said TDCI Captive Section Director Belinda Fortman. “By modernizing Tennessee’s captive insurance statute to reduce the minimum coverage for protected cell captive insurers as well as including parametric insurance coverage for the first time, the Volunteer State is providing strong incentives for captive owners to choose Tennessee as their captive domicile.”

2020 was another record-setting year for Tennessee’s captive insurance section as captive premium volume topped $1.6 billion and the number of active captives in Tennessee increased to 146. Today, over 750 risk-bearing entities call Tennessee home. Additionally, TDCI’s leadership has drawn international accolades as Fortman was recently named to Captive Review magazine’s “Power 50” list.

Said Fortman: “Through the first five months of 2021,Tennessee has averaged 10 new captive formations a month, which is an impressive pace that we hope to see continue. The growth of the captive insurance industry in Tennessee that we are seeing today is a byproduct of years of focused teamwork and the far-reaching vision of Tennessee’s leaders. I am thankful for the hard work and support of Governor Lee, the members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the captive insurance stakeholders who are helping make Tennessee truly the ‘Gold Standard’ of the South.”

Tennessee Captive Insurance Association (TCIA) President Kevin Doherty said: “The TCIA is grateful that the Department and the General Assembly, two of the three legs of the proverbial three-legged stool, have continued to support important updates like this to the captive law that help Tennessee remain at the forefront of our industry. Specifically, the TCIA supports the reduction in the minimum capital for protected cell captives to $100,000 and believes this will help to spur significant growth in cell captives in Tennessee. The TCIA also believes it is significant that Tennessee is leading the way now in permitting captives to offer parametric insurance that can offer innovative ways to cover large numbers of insureds in natural disasters or other similar events. As the third leg of the stool, the TCIA looks forward to continuing to work with the other two legs of this public private partnership to maintain Tennessee’s prominence as a captive insurance domicile.”

To learn more about captive insurance in Tennessee, visit captive.tn.gov or call (615) 741-3805, (855) 809-0069 (toll free) or email at captive.insurance@tn.gov.

Lee declines to sign teacher training bill over cost dispute

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) allowing school districts to establish their own teacher training programs.

The governor’s objections had less to do with the bill’s substance than concerns that the fiscal note was revised from $470,000 to “not significant,” despite his administration presenting evidence to the contrary. The lack of funding for the program is “something that will need to be addressed” in the upcoming budget year, Lee wrote.

Lee has not vetoed any bill since coming into office in 2019 and he’s now only allowed three to become law without his signature. In 2019, he didn’t sign the bill creating Tennessee’s online sports gambling program. In 2020, he declined to sign a resolution ratifying the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board’s increase in the 911 surcharge from $1.16 to $1.50. The latter was also sponsored by Bowling.

Here’s a copy of the letter Lee sent to House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge):

Dear Speaker Sexton and Lieutenant Governor McNally:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning HB1534/SB653 to become law without my signature. As our state faces a teacher shortage, we support alternative pathways to teacher licensure. These efforts cut back red tape and ensure more qualified professionals can teach our students. I am not signing the bill solely because of a cost discrepancy.

Unfortunately, this legislation incurs a cost that was not accounted for by Fiscal Review during the legislative process. Fiscal Review adjusted the fiscal note downward from several hundred thousand dollars to “not significant.” At the end of the legislative session, our team provided Fiscal Review with evidence of the costs associated with implementation and asked for correction.

The requested correction was not made, and the lack of adequate funding to support this legislation is something that will need to be addressed in the budget process in the year ahead in order to ensure proper implementation.

With your continued partnership, we have once again created and enacted a balanced budget that maintains Tennessee’s position as a leader in fiscal responsibility. We must be vigilant about thoroughly accounting for costs in the fiscal review process to ensure we maintain that fiscal prudence.

Our team at the Department of Education is available to discuss the cost assumptions on this matter at your convenience. We will also communicate our concerns with the bill sponsors and relevant committee chairs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this fiscal matter and I look forward to supporting more qualified teachers in our state.

Respectfully,

/signed/

Bill Lee

Lee to memorialize three service members

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to honor three service members at a Memorial Day service on Friday morning.

Here’s the release from the Department of Veterans Services:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Tommy Baker and Tennessee Military Department Adjutant General, Major General Jeff Holmes will honor three service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice at the state’s annual Memorial Day service on Friday, May 28, at 10:30 a.m. CDT at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

United States Army Sergeant First Class Jeremy Wayne Griffin of Greenbrier was killed in action on September 16, 2019 while conducting combat operations in Wardak Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He was 41 years old. Griffin was a Special Forces communications Sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group who joined the Army in 2004. He was on his fourth combat tour after completing three other combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

United States Army Private First Class Oliver Jeffers of Huntsville was killed in action November 10, 1944 during combat in the Hürtgen Forest of Germany. Following the end of the war, officials were unable to recover or identify Jeffers’ remains, and he was declared non-recoverable in 1951. While studying unresolved American losses in the Hürtgen area, historians discovered a set of unidentified remains in the Ardennes American Cemetery that possibly belonged to Jeffers. In April 2018 his remains were disinterred and were positively identified April 23, 2020. Jeffers was laid to rest in Huntsville, TN October 7, 2020.

United States Navy Fireman Third Class Warren H. Crim of McMinnville was killed December 7, 1941 aboard the USS Oklahoma, while moored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Crim’s unidentified remains were subsequently interred in either the Halawa or Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii between 1941 and 1944 and remained there until June 2015, when the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the disinterment of unidentified remains associated with the USS Oklahoma. Crim was identified December 8, 2017 and was laid to rest in Smartt, TN October 24, 2020.

AP: Tennessee leads nation in laws targeting transgender people

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed around the country this year, but Tennessee has gone further than any other in targeting transgender people, according to AP reporters Jonathan Mattise, Kimberlee Kruesi, and Lindsay Whitehurst.

From the story:

Lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed five new bills into law, consistently dismissing concerns that they discriminate against an already vulnerable population, that some of the laws are unworkable and that they could damage the state’s reputation.

Supporters defend the laws policy by policy, arguing that one protects parental rights, others protect girls and women and one even improves equality. Opponents reject those claims.

[…] Tennessee’s emergence as an anti-LGBTQ leader grows out of a rightward political shift in a state Republicans already firmly controlled. Lee’s Republican predecessor tapped the brakes on some socially conservative legislation, but emphatic GOP election wins fueled by strong support for former President Donald Trump have emboldened lawmakers since then. That’s the political landscape in which Lee is launching his 2022 reelection bid.

Read the whole report here.